Claims that prayer, divine intervention, or the ministrations of an individual healer can cure illness have been popular throughout history.* miracle|Miraculous recoveries have been attributed to many techniques commonly lumped together as "faith healing". It can involve prayer, a visit to a religious shrine, or simply a strong belief in a supreme being.*The term is best known in connection with Christianity. Some people interpret the Bible, especially the New Testament, as teaching belief in, and practice of, faith healing. There have been claims that faith can cure blindness, deafness, cancer, AIDS, developmental disorders, anemia, arthritis, corns, defective speech, multiple sclerosis, skin rashes, total body paralysis, and various injuries.*
Unlike faith healing, advocates of spiritual healing make no attempt to seek divine intervention, instead believing in divine energy. The increased interest in alternative medicine at the end of the twentieth century has given rise to a parallel interest among sociologists in the relationship of religion to health.*The American Cancer Society states "available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can actually cure physical ailments."* "Death, disability, and other unwanted outcomes have occurred when faith healing was elected instead of medical care for serious injuries or illnesses."* When parents use faith healing in the place of medical care, many children have died that otherwise would have been expected to live. * Similar results are found in adults.*
In various belief systemsFaith Healing claims have been made by many religions and the sick have visited their shrines in hopes of recovery.
OverviewOne use of the term faith healing is in reference to the belief of some Christians that God heals people through the power of the Holy Spirit, often involving the laying on of hands. It is also called supernatural healing, divine healing, and miracle healing, among other things. In the Old Testament, Jehovah-Rapha, translated "I am the Lord your Physician" or "I am the Lord who heals you", is one of the seven redemptive names for Jehovah God.* Healing in the Bible is often associated with the ministry of specific individuals including Elijah, Jesus and Paul of Tarsus|Paul.*
Christian physician Reginald B. Cherry views faith healing as a pathway of healing in which God uses both the natural and the supernatural to heal.* Being healed has been described as a privilege of accepting Christ's redemption on the cross.*p Pentecostal writer Wilfred Graves, Jr. views the healing of the body as a physical expression of salvation.* says, "This [Christ's ministry of healing] was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah, 53:5 (NKJV): 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'" "Faith" in this context is based on biblical uses of the term. Faith has been called "the very nature of God."* A classic definition of faith appears in the New Testament: "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen ..." () Charisma (magazine)|Charisma writer Larry Keefauver considers it important to distinguish between the faith aspect in seeking a cure and the divine source of the healing. points to God as the source: "I am the Lord that heals you." "The truth is that God is the God who heals. Faith is trusting the God who heals. Faith is a radical, absolute surrender to the God who heals. Faith is not holding on for your healing but holding on to the God who can do the impossible."*
Some Christian writers believe it extremely rare that God provides a supernatural intervention that actually reverses the natural laws governing the human body.* Keefauver cautions against allowing enthusiasm for faith healing to stir up false hopes "so that a sufferer stakes all his or her faith on belief in miraculous healing at this level. We cannot build a water-tight theology promising physical healing, surely, for the most 'miracle-ridden' Christian will die in the end, yielding to the natural processes of senescence."* Those who actively lay hands on others and pray with them to be healed are usually aware that healing may not always follow immediately. Proponents of faith healing say it may come later, but that it may not come at all.
New TestamentParts of the four gospels in the New Testament say that Jesus cured physical ailments well outside the capacity of first-century medicine. Most dramatic perhaps is the case of "a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was not better but rather grew worse." After healing her, Jesus tells her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace! Be cured from your illness." At least two other times Jesus credited the sufferer's faith as the means of being healed: and .
Jesus endorsed the use of the medical assistance of the time (medicines of oil and wine) when he praised the Good Samaritan for acting as a physician, telling his disciples to go and do the same thing that the Samaritan did in the story.*The healing in the gospels is referred to as a "sign" to prove Jesus' divinity and to foster belief in him as the Christ. However, when asked for other types of miracles, Jesus refused some but granted others in consideration of the motive of the request. Some theologians' understanding is that Jesus healed all who were present every single time.* Sometimes he determines whether they had faith that he would heal them.*Jesus told his followers to heal the sick and stated that signs such as healing are evidence of faith. Jesus also told his followers to "cure sick people, raise up dead persons, make lepers clean, expel demons. You received free, give free."
Jesus sternly ordered many who received healing from him: "Do not tell anyone!"* Jesus did not approve of anyone asking for a sign just for the spectacle of it, describing such as coming from a "wicked and adulterous generation."
The apostle Paul believed healing is one of the special gifts of the Holy Spirit, and that the possibility exists that certain persons may possess this gift to an extraordinarily high degree.*In the New Testament Epistle of James, the faithful are told that to be healed, those who are sick should call upon the elders of the church to pray over [them] and anoint [them] with oil in the name of the Lord.
The New Testament says that during Jesus' Ministry of Jesus|ministry and after his Resurrection of Jesus|Resurrection, the Apostle (Christian)|apostles healed the sick and cast out demons, made lame men walk, raised the dead and did many other miraculous things.
ResearchA study of beliefs about miraculous healing among the more religiously committed has indicated that there are significant differences in belief about miraculous healing even among people within the same denomination (Anglican). Researchers found that positive belief in faith healing was mainly a characteristic of conservative Christians, most especially those with charismatic experience. Belief about miraculous healing was seen as a subset of belief about health and well-being in general. Older people had less belief in miraculous healing or the sovereignty of God over illness, while those with experience of higher education had more inclusive beliefs about miraculous healing and saw human input as less important in the healing process. The study further showed that people with degrees or post-graduate qualifications can and do believe in the possibility of miraculous healing. No significant gender differences were noted.*
Pentecostalism/Charismatic movementAt the beginning of the 20th century, the new Pentecostalism|Pentecostal movement drew participants from the Holiness movement and other movements in America that already believed in divine healing. By the 1930s, several faith healers drew large crowds and established worldwide followings.
The first Pentecostals in the modern sense appeared in Topeka, Kansas, in a Bible school conducted by Charles Fox Parham, a holiness teacher and former Methodist pastor. Pentecostalism achieved worldwide attention in 1906 through the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles led by William Joseph Seymour.*During the Azusa Street meetings, according to witnesses who wrote about them, blind, crippled or other sick people would be healed. Some of the participants would eventually minister extensively in this area. For example, John G. Lake was present during the years of the Azusa Street revival. Lake had earned huge sums of money in the insurance business at the turn of the century but gave away his possessions with the exception of food for his children while he and his wife fasted on a trip to Africa to do missionary work. Certain people he had never met before gave him money and keys to a place to stay which were required to enter South Africa at the dock. His writings tell of numerous healing miracles he and others performed as over 500 churches were planted in South Africa. Lake returned to the U.S. and set up healing rooms in Spokane, Washington.
Smith Wigglesworth was also a well-known figure in the early part of the 20th century. A former English plumber turned evangelism|evangelist who lived simply and read nothing but the Bible from the time his wife taught him to read, Wigglesworth traveled around the world preaching about Jesus and performing faith healings. Wigglesworth claimed to raise several people from the dead in Jesus' name in his meetings.*p
During the 1920s and 1930s, Aimee Semple McPherson was a controversial faith healer of growing popularity during the Great Depression. Subsequently, William Branham has been credited as being the founder of the post-World War II healing revivals.* By the late 1940s, Oral Roberts was well known, and he continued with faith healing until the 1980s. A friend of Roberts was Kathryn Kuhlman, another popular faith healer, who gained fame in the 1950s and had a television program on CBS. Also in this era, Jack Coe* and A. A. Allen* were faith healers who traveled with large tents for large open-air crusades.
Oral Roberts's successful use of television as a medium to gain a wider audience led others to follow suit. His former pilot, Kenneth Copeland, started a healing ministry. Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, and Peter Popoff became well-known televangelists who claimed to heal the sick.* Richard Rossi is known for advertising his healing clinics through secular television and radio. Kuhlman influenced Benny Hinn, who adopted some of her techniques and wrote a book about her.*
CatholicismFaith healing is reported by Roman Catholic Church|Catholics as the result of intercessory prayer to a saint or to a person with the gift of healing. According to U.S. Catholic magazine, "Even in this skeptical, postmodern, scientific age—miracles really are possible." Three-fourths of American Catholics say they pray for miracles.*According to Notre Dame theology professor John Cavadini, when healing is granted, "The miracle is not primarily for the person healed, but for all people, as a sign of God's work in the ultimate healing called 'salvation,' or a sign of the kingdom that is coming." Some might view their own healing as a sign they are particularly worthy or holy, while others do not deserve it.*
The Catholic Church has a special Congregation dedicated to the careful investigation of the validity of alleged miracles attributed to prospective saints. Since Catholic Christians believe the lives of canonized saints in the Church will reflect Christ's, they have come to actually expect healing miracles. While the popular conception of a miracle can be wide-ranging, the Catholic Church has a specific definition for the kind of miracle formally recognized in a canonization process.*Among the best-known accounts by Catholics of faith healings are those attributed to the miraculous intercession of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary known as Our Lady of Lourdes at the grotto of Lourdes in France and the remissions of life-threatening disease claimed by those who have applied for aid to Saint Jude, who is known as the "patron saint of lost causes".*The Catholic Church has given official recognition to 67 miracles and 7,000 otherwise inexplicable medical cures since the Blessed Virgin Mary first appeared in Lourdes in February 1858. These cures are subjected to intense medical scrutiny and are only recognized as authentic spiritual cures after a commission of doctors and scientists, called the Lourdes Medical Bureau, has ruled out any physical mechanism for the patient's recovery.*
Christian ScienceChristian Science claims that healing is possible through an understanding of the underlying, spiritual perfection of God's creation. The world as humanly perceived is believed to be a distortion of spiritual reality. Christian Scientists believe that healing through prayer is possible insofar as it succeeds in correcting the distortion. Christian Scientists believe that prayer does not change the spiritual creation but gives a clearer view of it, and the result appears in the human scene as healing: the human picture adjusts to coincide more nearly with the divine reality.* Prayer works through love: the recognition of God's creation as spiritual, intact, and inherently lovable.*Christian Scientists believe that in the New Testament, Jesus is implying the existence of an underlying spiritual harmony that can be demonstrated through faith in its existence. They look to where Jesus calmed a storm through prayer and implied that his disciples could have done so also if they had sufficient faith; and to where Jesus stated that a young girl who had apparently died could be well again if faith was shown.
Christian Scientists believe that prayer works through love – in its Christian sense of unselfed, unlimited and unconditional awareness of the inherent worth of another – and that this is the way Jesus Christ healed. Their aim is "to reinstate primitive Christianity and its lost element of healing" * which, they believe, was lost after the early centuries of Christianity. They cite such Bible texts as ; in support of their contention that Christian faith demands demonstration in healing. This is a faith in the omnipotence of God, which according to the Christian Science interpretation of the Bible such as , logically rules out any other power. The Christian Science view, citing ; , is that Jesus taught that we should claim good as being present, here and now, and that this will result in healing. Christian Scientists point to Jesus' teaching in that his followers would do "greater works" than he did, and that a person who lived in conformity with his teachings would not be subject even to death ().
An important point in Christian Science is that effectual prayer and the moral regeneration of one's life go hand-in-hand: that "signs and wonders are wrought in the metaphysical healing of physical disease; but these signs are only to demonstrate its divine origin, to attest the reality of the higher mission of the Christ-power to take away the sins of the world."* Christian Science teaches that disease is mental, a mortal fear, a mistaken belief or conviction of the necessity and power of ill-health – an ignorance of God's power and goodness. The chapter on "Prayer" in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, gives a full account of healing through prayer, while the testimonies at the end of the book are written by people who believe they have been healed through spiritual understanding gained from reading the book. Christian Scientists claim no monopoly on the application of God's healing power through prayer, and welcome it wherever it occurs.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day SaintsWith claims of being the true and restored Church of Jesus Christ, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has had a long history of faith healings. Many members of the LDS Church have told their stories of healing within the LDS publication, the Ensign (LDS magazine)|Ensign.* The church believes healings come most often as a result of Priesthood (LDS Church)|priesthood blessings given by the laying on of hands; however, prayer often accompanied with fasting is also thought to cause healings. Healing is always attributed to be God's power. Latter-day Saints believe that the Priesthood of God, held by prophets (such as Moses) and worthy disciples of the Savior, was restored via heavenly messengers to the first prophet of this dispensation, Joseph Smith, Jr|Joseph Smith.*According to LDS doctrine, even though members may have the restored priesthood authority to heal in the name of Jesus Christ, all efforts should be made to seek the appropriate medical help. Brigham Young stated this effectively, while also noting that the ultimate outcome is still dependent on the will of God.*
Many LDS members believe that healing is one of the signs of the true church of Christ, as Christ told his disciples to heal the sick as one of their duties (*Matt 10:8* KJV); however, they also believe that healing is not just restricted to the true church. It is believed that faith in Jesus Christ is the most important thing in a faith healing; however, it is also believed that even the devil has some ability to heal and work other miracles (*Matt 7:21–23* KJV, *Rev. 16:14* KJV).
SpiritualismSpiritualism is a system of belief which holds as a tenet the belief that contact is possible between the living and the spirits of the dead. For this reason, death, as an outcome of disease, may not seem as frightening to Spiritualists as it does to those who practice other religions. According to the 20th-century Spiritualist author Lloyd Kenyon Jones, "This does not mean that sickness is unreal. It is real enough from the mortal viewpoint. The spirit feels the pain, senses the discomfiture of the flesh-body, even though the spirit is not ill."* Spiritualism does not promote "mental" cures of the type advocated by New Thought; however, help from the "spirit world" (including advice given by the spirits of deceased physicians) is sought and may be seen as central to the healing process. As with practitioners of New Thought, Spiritualists may combine faith healing with conventional medical therapies. As Jones explained it, "We are not taught to put the burden on our minds. We do not 'will away' illness. But – we do not fear illness. [...] When we ask the spirit-world to relieve us of a bodily ill, we have gone as far as our own understanding and diligence permit. [...] We have faith, and confidence, and belief. [...] If medicine at times will assist, we take it – not as a habit, but as a little push over the hill. If we need medical attention, we secure it."*
United States lawThe 1974 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) required states to grant religious exemptions to child neglect and child abuse|abuse laws in order to receive federal money.* The CAPTA amendments of 1996 state:
Thirty-one states have child-abuse religious exemptions. These are Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming.*
Reckless Homicide ConvictionsParents have been convicted of child abuse and felony reckless negligent homicide and found responsible for killing their children when they withheld lifesaving medical care and chose only prayers.*
Scientific investigationsWhile faith in the supernatural is not in itself usually considered to be the purview of science,* claims of reproducible effects are nevertheless subject to scientific investigation.
A study in the BMJ|British Medical Journal (Rose, 1954) investigated Energy medicine|spiritual healing, therapeutic touch and faith healing. In a hundred cases that were investigated, no single case revealed that the healer's intervention alone resulted in any improvement or cure of a measurable organic disability.*A Cochrane Collaboration|Cochrane review of intercessory prayer* found conflicting evidence for claims of a positive effect, but there was a conclusion that "evidence presented so far is interesting enough to justify further study." A recent study not included in the review found that intercessory prayer had no effect on complication-free recovery from heart surgery, but curiously the group certain of receiving intercessory prayer experienced higher rates of complications.* (See also Studies on intercessory prayer)
A group at Johns Hopkins published a study in 2011 reporting no significant effects on pain, mood, health perceptions, illness intrusiveness, or self-efficacy, but a small improvement in reported energy in a double-blind study to test the efficacy of spiritual exercise in chronically ill adults.*
CriticismAccording to the American Cancer Society:
The American Medical Association considers that prayer as therapy should not be a medically reimbursable or deductible expense.*Skeptics of faith healing offer primarily two explanations for anecdotes of cures or improvements, relieving any need to appeal to the supernatural.* The first is post hoc ergo propter hoc, meaning that a genuine improvement or spontaneous remission may have been experienced coincidental with but independent from anything the faith healer or patient did or said. These patients would have improved just as well even had they done nothing. The second is the placebo effect, through which a person may experience genuine pain relief and other symptomatic alleviation. In this case, the patient genuinely has been helped by the faith healer or faith-based remedy, not through any mysterious or numinous function, but by the power of their own belief that they would be healed.* In both cases the patient may experience a real reduction in symptoms, though in neither case has anything miraculous or inexplicable occurred. Both cases, however, are strictly limited to the body's natural abilities.
There have been case studies of claims made. Following a Kathryn Kuhlman 1967 fellowship in Philadelphia, Dr. William A. Nolen conducted a case study of 23 people who claimed to have been cured during her services.* Nolen's long-term follow-ups concluded there were no cures in those cases.* Furthermore, "one woman who was said to have been cured of spinal cancer threw away her brace and ran across the stage at Kuhlman's command; her spine collapsed the next day, according to Nolen, and she died four months later."* In 1976, Kuhlman died in Tulsa, Oklahoma, following open-heart surgery.*There are also some cases of fraud (faking the condition) or ineffective healing (believing the condition has been healed immediately after the "healing" and later finding out it has not). These are discussed in following sections.
Negative impact on public healthReliance on faith healing to the exclusion of other forms of treatment can have a public health impact when it reduces or eliminates access to modern medical techniques.* This is evident in both higher mortality rates for children* and in reduced life expectancy for adults.* Critics have also made note of serious injury that has resulted from falsely labelled "healings", where patients erroneously consider themselves cured and cease or withdraw from treatment.* For example, at least six people have died after faith healing by their church and being told they had been healed of HIV and could stop taking their medications.* It is the stated position of the AMA that "prayer as therapy should not delay access to traditional medical care."*
Christian theological criticism of faith healingChristian theological criticism of faith healing broadly falls into two distinct levels of disagreement.
The first is widely termed the "open-but-cautious" view of the miraculous in the church today. This term is deliberately used by Robert L. Saucy in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today?.* Don Carson is another example of a Christian teacher who has put forward what has been described as an "open-but-cautious" view.* In dealing with the claims of Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield|Warfield, particularly "Warfield's insistence that miracles ceased,"* Carson asserts, "But this argument stands up only if such miraculous gifts are theologically tied exclusively to a role of attestation; and that is demonstrably not so."* However, while affirming that he does not expect healing to happen today, Carson is critical of aspects of the faith healing movement, "Another issue is that of immense abuses in healing practises.... The most common form of abuse is the view that since all illness is directly or indirectly attributable to the devil and his works, and since Christ by his cross has defeated the devil, and by his Spirit has given us the power to overcome him, healing is the inheritance right of all true Christians who call upon the Lord with genuine faith."*The second level of theological disagreement with Christian faith healing goes further. Commonly referred to as cessationism, its adherents either claim that faith healing will not happen today at all, or may happen today, but it would be unusual. Richard Gaffin argues for a form of cessationism in an essay alongside Saucy's in the book Are Miraculous Gifts for Today? In his book Perspectives on Pentecost* Gaffin states of healing and related gifts that "the conclusion to be drawn is that as listed in 1 Corinthians 12(vv. 9f., 29f.) and encountered throughout the narrative in Acts, these gifts, particularly when exercised regularly by a given individual, are part of the foundational structure of the church... and so have passed out of the life of the church."* Gaffin qualifies this, however, by saying "At the same time, however, the sovereign will and power of God today to heal the sick, particularly in response to prayer (see e.g. James 5:14,15), ought to be acknowledged and insisted on."*
FraudSkeptics of faith healers point to fraudulent practices either in the healings themselves (such as plants inthe audience with fake illnesses), or concurrent with the healing work supposedly taking place and claim that faith healing is a quackery|quack practice in which the "healers" use well known non-supernatural illusions to exploit credulous people in order to obtain their gratitude, confidence and money.* James Randi's The Faith Healers investigates Christian evangelists such as Peter Popoff, who claimed to heal sick people and to give personal details about their lives, but was receiving radio transmissions from his wife, Elizabeth, who was off-stage reading information that she and her aides had gathered from earlier conversations with members of the audience.* The book also questioned how faith healers use funds that were sent to them for specific purposes.* Physicist Robert L. Park* and doctor and consumer advocate Stephen Barrett* have called into question the ethicality of some exorbitant fees.
There have also been legal controversies. For example, in 1955 at a Jack Coe revival service in Miami, Florida, Coe told the parents of a three year old boy that he healed their son who had polio.* Coe then told the parents to remove the boy's leg braces.* However, their son was not cured of polio and removing the braces left the boy in constant pain.* As a result, Coe was arrested and charged on February 6, 1956 with practicing medicine without a license, a felony in the state of Florida. A Florida Justice of the Peace#United States|Justice of the Peace dismissed the case on grounds that Florida exempts divine healing from the law.* Later that year Coe was diagnosed with bulbar polio, and died a few weeks later at Dallas' Parkland Hospital on December 17, 1956.*